Not even the best writer in Hollywood could have scripted this ending.
Not one in which the University of West Florida concludes its fourth season in program history with the NCAA Division II national championship.
Yet, here in Texas on a chilly Saturday afternoon in late December, the dream became reality. The Argonauts completed a storybook run through the playoffs with 48-40 victory over fourth-ranked Minnesota State at McKinney ISD Stadium in Texas.
The Mavericks tried to tie the game in the final minutes. But they were stopped on fourth-and-9 when a pass attempt was broken up.
From there, UWF merely had to step into victory formation to run out the clock and begin a celebration on the field that lasted nearly an hour after the game ended.
The No. 20 Argos hoisted the trophy, overwhelmed with joy and wearing smiles you typically find on children on Christmas morning.
Coaches and players shared hugs with teammates, friends and family members. They donned championship hats as blue confetti rained down and fireworks went off.
The celebration continued in the locker room where players jammed out to music and savored the thrill of reaching a place most only dream of.
“First off, I couldn’t be prouder of our team and our players, and just the effort and the belief,” UWF head coach Pete Shinnick said. “This program, we started it four years ago. To be able to win a national championship in our fourth season, God’s been gracious to us. It’s just been a fun, fun ride.”
It was a ride in which the Argos (13-2) were underdogs each step of the way. And each time they defied the odds.
They defied the odds by leaving four consecutive unbeaten teams with a blemish on their record. That included the Mavericks, who came in at 14-0 and ranked fourth in the nation.
They defied the odds by taking out three No. 1 seeds, something that has never been done, and they brought four top 10 teams to their knees.
Austin Reed set championship game records for yards (523) and touchdown passes (6). In fact he broke the old mark of 361 in the first half with 399 yards, helping to stake the Argos to a 38-21 lead at halftime.
“It was going well. I was spinning it pretty good,” Reed said. “I can’t thank God more than I do. It’s unbelievable what he is doing with my life. It’s never been me. It’s always been Him. It’s always been my teammates. I’m just a byproduct of a lot of things going on here.”
Navarre’s own Quentin Randolph benefited the most from a performance by Reed that is typically reserved for a video game. He snagged three touchdown passes. His first one gave UWF the lead for good at 21-14 with 13:18 to play in the half.
The former walk-on then caught two scoring strikes from Reed in the final five minutes of the half, his second coming in stride on a 48-yard catch that propelled UWF into halftime with momentum.
Randolph finished with 10 catches for 254 yards. Both totals are career highs, and he caps his career with his first 1,000-yard season.
UWF led 45-21 with 8:12 to play in the third after Tate Lehtio scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Reed.
The lead seemed safe and a championship appeared assured until the Mavericks fought back and closed the gap to 48-40 with 4:03 left.
Enter UWF’s defense. It gave up 562 yards and 40 points but once again showed its knack for making big plays when it matters most.
The Argos kept the Mavs out of the end zone on the final drive. Reed took the ball on a snap moments later as the final seconds ran off the clock and the players came running onto the field.
Randolph had tears in his eyes after the game. Tears of joy. Once a player who considered walking away because of the tough start to his career, he was thankful to go out the way he did. He started from the bottom and rose to the top.
“I knew that I had come so far. For my senior year, I wanted to go out with a bang,” Randolph said. “A lot of us started this program. What better way to go out than with a national championship.”
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